MIAMI — Over the last few years, staff members at Everglades National Park have experimented with ways to scare off flocks of vandals that lurk in parking lots every winter, sporadically defacing cars, trucks and boat trailers.
They’ve tried yelling at them, squirting them with water, even dangling dead ones upside down in trees.
But nothing has curbed the curious appetite that migrating vultures have developed for windshield wipers, sunroof seals and other rubber and vinyl vehicle parts. So this winter, the park is shifting to purely defensive tactics against the big birds, expanding a program that provides visitors at the most trouble-prone sites loaner “anti-vulture kits” consisting of blue plastic tarps and bungee cords.
“It’s recognition on our part that they’re part of the park and we’re the intruders in their world,” said park wildlife biologist Skip Snow. “The vultures are doing what comes naturally.”
Naturally, as in flying south for the winter and congregating in the Everglades. The car-munching, on the other hand, is a departure from the normal diet of the dead and decaying and a habit that largely perplexes scientists.
The birds, usually black vultures native to the Southeast that swell the year-round resident buzzard population during cold months, can be found many mornings perched on cars or trucks at Anhinga Trail, the park’s first and most popular tourist stop, or in Flamingo, an isolated outpost on Florida Bay. Much of the time they do little or no damage but once they get going, the destruction can sometimes be extensive, shocking even experienced Glades hands.
Adam Gelber, a consulting biologist and frequent Everglades angler, found that out early this winter when he took visiting scientists from California on a scenic tour of park waters, finding rare crocodiles, bald eagles and wake-riding dolphins.